I’m reading with interest the recent comeback post by Curtis Yarvin. I might have some longer thoughts later, but for the moment I just wanted to quibble with part of his empirical model.
Referring to the dominant axis of partisan polarization, he writes:
Any point on which both poles concur is shared story: “uncontroversial, bipartisan consensus.”
Shared story has root privilege. It has no natural enemies and is automatically true. Injecting ideas into it is nontrivial and hence lucrative; this profession is called “PR.”The Clear Pill, Part 1 of 5: The Four-Stroke Regime
Empirically, I think this is the opposite of what’s really going on. He seems to acknowledge this toward the end, I just feel like riffing... The problem is not an illusory consensus, but the rapid disintegration of all illusory consensus beyond the small-group or subculture level. Neoreaction momentarily aligned the words “accelerationism” and “Moldbug,” but perhaps now we should start to explore the adversarial collaboration: Accelerationism versus Moldbug.
The broadcast era saw the reign of illusory consensus because everyone had to fight for highly scarce spots in a one-to-many transmission game. Digitalization, downstream from the mid-century Information Revolution, has been the story of protracted fragmentation of the illusory consensus.
Players from Rush Limbaugh to the Fox News network gradually realized that it was increasingly possible to “hard fork” the illusory consensus. At first, educated high-status people thought Rush Limbaugh or Fox News would be easy to dismiss; it was genuinely believed that enough public snickering about these stupid people would force them to go away.
What we are now realizing is that the short-term stigmatization of low-status culture hackers simply does not work. High-status educated people were overconfident in their power to make or break the success of cultural projects by telling the public what is worthy of attention. Low-status content that optimizes for the affects of particular audience segments, will always defeat high-status condemnation of it — but only as of recently. High-status people still don’t understand this yet, because their life’s work is predicated on climbing broadcast towers, in an era where broadcast legitimation games could make or break you. The low-status culture hacker is invariably weird, dumb, lame, or evil in the eyes of high-status figures, but the hacker doesn’t care. They are correct to not care, for what they intuit is that there is no longer any root. If all the high-status people say you’re a loser, but 1000 people think or feel you’re awesome (as indicated by their revealed preference to read/watch/listen to you), ontologically you are much closer to “awesome” than “loser.” The 1000 people who like you are real people, whereas the high-status people are shouting into a room that was evacuated years ago. The hard-forking culture hackers know their machines operate objectively, in a fashion technically immune to the lamentations of the déclassé broadcaster folks.
At the moment, what's happening is that this realization is finally being reckoned with from within the younger and more risk-tolerant factions of the higher-status sets. This is why so much of the cultural conflict is becoming particularly hysterical: all of the older and established individuals in perches based on institutionalized status see that genuine creative talent from here on out is no longer paying into their pyramid scheme. Imagine building your household on a MLM business, which has been growing for as long as you can remember, but now all of a sudden the last cohort of incoming members has nobody behind them. The analogy is not quite right, because it’s happening more gradually than this, but you get the idea. Whether it's the relatively uncouth and anarchistic temperaments defecting from increasingly oppressive high-status perches (like me), or young and attractive women who see that defection from Hollywood morals is a growth market (like Red Scare), or high-school boys who calculate that becoming anonymous internet edgelords has a higher expected value than even trying to speak to peers IRL… The fact is that everyone and everything worth paying attention to has already moved to the frontier, in a digital gold rush that is hardly even seen, let alone understood, by those who have not yet set sail.
There are certainly shared illusions in operation, as there always are in human groups, but what is unique and perverse about contemporary American history is the disappearance of limits (historically, hardware-based limits) on the quantity and quality of hard forks.
But hey, maybe Yarvin’s next posts will account for all of this and more. Just thought I’d jump in while the water is warm.